“You see your whole life flash in front of you in an hour and some minutes, and then it’s like, wow, did all that really happen? Because I always felt I’m in somewhat of a dream to begin with,” says Herb Alpert, subject of a new documentary about his life from director John Scheinfeld (“Chasing Trane,” “Who Is Harry Nilsson”). It’s a dream that now has a release date: “Herb Alpert Is…” is hitting theaters and VOD on Oct. 1.
The doc will be the rare movie with a three-CD soundtrack, of sorts. It’s being announced today that Oct. 2 will see the release of a box set commemorating Alpert’s career, also titled “Herb Alpert Is…” The collection is not officially a soundtrack, as only a portion of its 63 tracks appear in the movie, but it fills a larger need as the first large-scale set celebrating the entirety of the legendary trumpeter’s nearly six-decade catalog.
While Alpert says his life has been dreamlike, he didn’t want Scheinfeld’s film to whitewash his life as if it had all been a good dream.
“I think one of the things that is kind of fascinating about my life is that I, at one point, had the American dream come true,” Alpert tells Variety. “I had the gold ring, I had hit records, I was famous — and I wasn’t feeling great. I was not happy. I think I said ‘miserable’ in the documentary. But I think people can relate to that feeling and the things you have to do to come out the other end. And I have come out the other end. … I wanted it to speak to other people. I didn’t just want it to say, ‘Isn’t he wonderful?’ I wanted it to have a feeling of honesty to it, and I think it really has that.”
Both the three-CD and five-LP versions of the boxed set will include 180 pages of photos and liner notes that include an essay from music critic Bud Scoppa. Hardcore fans may want to spring for the vinyl version, in which all of that printed ephemera comes in the form of a coffee table book, to go with the 180-gram LPs.
Alpert makes it sound like he wasn’t sweating out the fact that he didn’t have a comprehensive boxed set until now.
“It seems like the logical thing to do,” he says, to have one come out now in conjunction with the documentary. “I don’t handle that end of it. My nephew, Randy ‘Bad-Ass’ Alpert, handles that end of it for me, and I go along with him. He thought it was an opportunity to put the music that was not only in the special, but also music that people might want to hear from my past and present. And we put that together in a nice package, and I’m proud of it. I didn’t go into the weeds of it. Randy put the songs together. I made a list of songs that I thought would be good, and then he made his list and we combined them.
“And I’m proud of what I’ve done musically. It was all done with good intent. I mean, I never tried to make a hit record. I know this might sound strange. ‘The Lonely Bull’ was the record that started A&M in 1962, and I know that had a commercial ring to it. But after that, I felt if I was gonna make it in this record industry, I’d have to come up with some more interesting stuff. I didn’t want to play ‘The Lonely Bull’ sideways and upside down in every variation of it. I wanted to see how far I could take the sound that I discovered through other musicians and picking and choosing.
“Because at one point I used to try to play like these other musicians — Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong and Harry James and all the trumpet players that I had respect for. And then I said, ‘Man, who wants to hear that? They’ve already done it.’ So I was looking for my own identity, and I found it. I found it listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford’s ‘How High the Moon,’ when Les was stacking his guitar on many, many tracks, and I tried doing that with the trumpet. And when I hit it, it was like, ‘Bingo. I think I hit on something that’s really good.’ And that was basically the sound of the Tijuana Brass and the sound of my trumpet.
Alpert had been interested in taking part in a documentary for some time, but “I was looking for the right director,” he says. “When I saw the things John did on John Coltrane and Harry Nillson and John Lennon (‘The US vs. John Lennon), I just liked his touch. He has a very sensitive touch, and when we spoke, he just seemed to understand my game.”
Scheinfeld also has a documentary coming out on Sergio Mendes, whose story overlaps in a big way with that of Alpert and his wife Lani Hall (who started out as a member of Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66), so fans of midcentury-modern music have a veritable Marvel cinematic universe of converging sagas to look forward to from the director.
The documentary begins with a celebrative flashback to Alpert outselling the Beatles at the height of their respective careers in the mid-1960s before he uses the word “miserable” to sum up his state of mind at the time, which serves as a sort of cliffhanger.
“I know my music has an upbeat, positive ring to it, so when you hear that, I think that’s like an interesting ‘Hmm. But I thought this guy had everything!'”
The documentary “was supposed to be out a couple months ago, and because of the pandemic, it was changed to October. So I’m just happy it’s coming out, and I’d be thrilled if a lot of people love it, but who knows?” says Alpert. “You put it out there. I feel it’s good. I think a lot of people will enjoy it, so hope for the best. And if they don’t, I’m still here making music, sculpting and painting.”
The film does open on Alpert doing his visual art, which has increasingly become a focus over the decades, although the musician is still having albums debut at No. 1 on the jazz charts. Naturally his arts-centric philanthropy comes to figure into the story.
“It certainly is no mystery that I love the arts and I’m doing whatever I can to help support it,” he says. “I think the musicians and the artists of the world are our second responders. They’re the people that make sense out of life and out of what we’re doing in this world. And in order to be a really good artist, you have to be honest. And that’s what I’ve found. I found the artists that I’ve met in my days, and I’ve met a lot of them, I’ve met a lot of great ones, they were all honest with their art. They were always looking for the truth. And I think we could use a lot more truth in this world.”
Alpert’s wry humor figures into the film, too, as in a scene where the then-84-year-old carefully doles out a regimented meal and jokes that this is how he manages to keep looking 83.
In actuality, says Alpert (now 85), “I always go with the adage that Satchel Paige said years ago. He said, ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?'” Honest and rational in his self-assessment as ever, he shaves just a couple of decades off his physical age in pinpointing his inner youthful sagacity: “I feel like I’m 63.”
The challenge in pulling off a documentary about someone who’s been in the limelight for close to six decades, but whose music is not necessarily at the forefront of contemporary pop consciousness, is that it needs to super-serve the longtime fan and also provide sufficient backstory to act as an introduction for those who come in without knowing much history — although Alpert believes that the music itself tells enough of his tale.
“I’ll tell you, my wife and I’ve been doing live concerts for the last 12, 13 years, and I’m amazed at how many young folks are in our audience. I thought it was going to be the blue haired set that was going to want to hear the music and see me and my group with my wife, Lani, but no, it’s not all that. So yeah, I know there’s a lot of people that don’t know me from Adam, but that’s okay. Let the music speak. The music, if you take it in… I think people will get it.”
Prior to the official Oct. 2 debut date for theaters and home video, Abramorama will hold a premiere event on Facebook Live and in select theaters featuring a Q&A with Alpert and Scheinfeld.
The track list for the boxed set:
- The Lonely Bull – from the album The Lonely Bull
- Winds Of Barcelona – from the album Volume 2
- Mexican Corn – from the album Volume 2
- South Of The Border – from the album South Of The Border
- Mexican Shuffle – from the album South Of The Border
- All My Loving – from the album South Of The Border
- A Taste Of Honey – from the album Whipped Cream & Other Delights
- Green Peppers – from the album Whipped Cream & Other Delights
- Bittersweet Samba – from the album Whipped Cream & Other Delights
- Whipped Cream – from the album Whipped Cream & Other Delights
- Tijuana Taxi – from the album !!Going Places!!
- I’m Getting Sentimental Over You – from the album !!Going Places!!
- Spanish Flea – from the album !!Going Places!!
- 3rd Man Theme – from the album !!Going Places!!
- Zorba The Greek – from the album !!Going Places!!
- What Now My Love – from the album What Now My Love
- Memories Of Madrid – from the album What Now My Love
- So what’s New? – from the album What Now My Love
- Magic Trumpet – from the album What Now My Love
- Brasilia – from the album What Now My Love
- If I Were A Rich Man – from the album What Now My Love
- The Work Song – from the album S.R.O.
- Mame – from the album S.R.O.
- Flamingo – from the album S.R.O.
- Bo-Bo – from the album Sounds Like…
- Town Without Pity – from the album Sounds Like…
- Treasure Of San Miguel – from the album Sounds Like…
- Casino Royale – from the album Sounds Like…
- A Banda – from the album Herb Alpert’s Ninth
- Panama – from the album The Beat Of The Brass
- Slick – from the album The Beat Of The Brass
- This Guy’s In Love With You – from the album The Beat Of The Brass
- The Sea Is My Soil – from the album Warm
- Hurt So Bad – from the album Summertime
- Jerusalem – from the album Summertime
- You Smile – The Song Begins – from the album You Smile – The Song Begins
- Up Cherry Street – from the album You Smile – The Song Begins
- Skokiaan – from the album Herb Alpert / Hugh Masekela
- Rise – from the album Rise
- Rotation – from the album Rise
- Beyond – from the album Beyond
- The Factory – from the album Beyond
- Fandango – from the album Fandango
- Route 101 – from the album Fandango
- Keep Your Eye On Me – from the album Keep Your Eye On Me
- Diamonds – from the album Keep Your Eye On Me
- My Abstract Heart – from the album Abstract Heart
- Just A Dream Away – from the album Abstract Heart
- I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face – from the album Midnight Sun
- Second Wind – from the album Second Wind
- Sneakin’ In – from the album Second Wind
- Magic Man – from the album Colors
- Puttin’ On The Ritz – from the album Steppin’ Out
- La Vie En Rose – from the album Steppin’ Out
- Night Ride – from the album Come Fly With Me
- Human Nature – from the album Human Nature
- I’m Yours – from the album Music Vol. 1
- Strike Up The Band – from the album Music Vol. 1
- The Lonely Bull – from the album Music Volume 3: Herb Alpert Reimagines The Tijuana Brass
- Whipped Cream – from the album Music Volume 3: Herb Alpert Reimagines The Tijuana Brass
- A Taste Of Honey – from the album Music Volume 3: Herb Alpert Reimagines The Tijuana Brass
- Wade In the Water – from the album Music Volume 3: Herb Alpert Reimagines The Tijuana Brass
- What A Wonderful World – from the album Over The Rainbow